There was a beautiful discussion on our Facebook feed with great tenderness and concern. It is an example of spiritual friendships and on how to deal with what happened in Orlando and I wanted to reiterate what was shared and make a formal statement on behalf of our community as our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy. The Buddha taught that the world is suffering, and wherever their is greed, delusion and hatred there will be suffering. Our practice is not separate from samsara but in the midst of it. I love this story of Kwan Yin, seeing and hearing the endless suffering in the world, “she became so disheartened that…Her body shattered in great agitation and despair. Despite this, She did not just give up — Her consciousness called to the Buddhas for help. Of the Buddhas who came to aid her, one was Amitabha Buddha, who became her teacher and Buddha. With the Buddha’s Great compassion, she attained a new form — one with a thousand helping hands of Compassion coupled with the eyes of Wisdom in each palm. With this, she renewed her vow to saving not just limited sentient beings, but all sentient beings.” It doesn’t matter if this is a myth or not what matters is it tells us to seek support from spiritual friends, and from the Great Compassion, that is available and never stop our practice. While we can deplore the actions and the behavior, it is important to remember and sit with the suffering of all involved including the person who committed the atrocity. This in no way excuses the behavior and isn’t meant to minimize the suffering of the people who lost their lives and the impact to those that loved them. Rather it can bring you to a place of healing and compassion. This is really hard to swallow at first and we can only do it when we’re ready.. Never give up, keep going.
“ This realization of oneness. It involves the highest type of communication and respect. IF your life is realized in the this sense…you would see that the whole world supports you. You exist because others; everything supports your life. This totality, this oneness evokes a gratitude and a great joy beyond explanation.” Gyomay Kubose
We live a life immersed in grace; the grace of being supported by all things at all times. We are supported by the solar system, by the sun that continually lights our world and drives the processes that help the earth to give us air to breath, water to drink and food to eat, that helps us to see, We are supported by the smallest things, to the largest. We are supported by microbes and bees that help create the food we eat, and by all the trees that help us breathe. The bees give us grace every day, the trees give us grace, and there is also the grace given by our ancestors down through long passages of time; so much grace given that is still within in us now. We are all interdependent and existent in this very moment. In the midst of our diversity and interdependence we can come to direct realization of Oneness and by doing so we can communicate our respect and gratitude for them, for all of life, for all the gifts which in oneness we have received and which are unmerited.
For me, namu amida butsu is an expression of this oneness and grace, an expression of Buddha-nature. The Oneness that Gyomay Sensei is writing about in the above quote, is for me personified as Amida Buddha. Because of Oneness I exist and therefore I exist because of namu amida butsu. This is how I understand the idea among some teachers, that the nembutsu is simply an expression of gratitude for all that Amida Buddha has done for us. My practice of chanting the nembutsu is a form of the highest form of communication and respect. Through this practice I cultivate a recognition / realization of Oneness, and all that Oneness does for me every day, and this brings forth the fruit and joy of gratitude.
This has tied into something that I have been thinking about and that is gratitude, gratitude as a form of awakening. A few years ago I had an experience in the midst of great suffering, where something shifted and I was overwhelmed with an intense gratitude for everything I had experienced and everyone I have ever known, even for just a moment. I spent hours going through my email list sending out heart felt thank yous to everyone on. I think even companies whose email list I was part of even got a thank you and I am sure a few who received the emails, shook their heads. I called friends, I reached out to as many as I could to share my gratitude for their very existence. In this space of gratitude, I wept and I laughed. It was confusing at first because of the amount of tears that fell. I remember thinking why am crying so hard? I am not sad so why am I crying? I realized that for me this is how deep and profound gratitude expresses itself. Later on, this experience also helped to me realize that for many years I had seen “love” as the highest emotion, the goal of religious practice. I have had experiences of profound love for all things, where I loved even the street sign that I was standing under, and yet that night I experienced something even more expansive and sublime than “love”; I experienced an unbounded gratitude. Writing this now and remembering what it was like, the lines from last week’s report are even more profound “ We should always be ready to die, able to say, “thank you for everything”. In some ways, that is what I experienced that night, the “thank you for everything” and remembering it helps me to understand what Gyomay Sensei was teaching.
I like what Jeff Wilson, a Jodo Shin minister has written, “in Shin Buddhism our main focus is the practice of gratitude. We practice simply to give thanks for what we have received. It’s a small shift in one’s perspective, but when pursued, it can be transformative.” This came home to me the other night when I was holding my little boy in my arms, he was cuddled against my chest and I was just feeling him breathe and thinking how much I loved him and I just repeated thank you, thank you, thank you and the love I was feeling already, expanded exponentially and was enfolded into an ever expanding gratitude. I think the cultivation of gratitude is an important practice because it acts as a catalyst that can expand positive states of consciousness. Cultivating gratitude, by recognizing and by expressing it, manifests more gratitude and deepens our awareness of Oneness.
Namu amida butsu
Namu amida butsu
Namu amida butsu
May it be so.
I don’t know.
From a young age many of us are afraid to be someone who doesn’t know. Maybe we are afraid to be seen as dumb and therefore unacceptable, so we wing it and hope the other person doesn’t see that we actually don’t have a clue. This is not just anecdotal, studies have shown that when children are giving unanswerable questions, they makeup answers, to seem like they know rather than to be found not knowing. This habit sticks with as we grow up, for some of us they become the three hardest words to say. We all know that feeling; usually half way through, when we realize we really have no clue what we are saying and how much easier it would have to simply say, “ I don’t know”. Instead we find ourselves five years old again, dancing around with our made up answers, again hoping no one will notice.
To act as a “knower” is fraught with challenges and pitfalls. Deciding that we know this is the way it is.”….. has a tendency to close us off to a myriad of other possibilities. We become fixed in our ideas and perceptions, our world gets smaller and smaller. Another problem with knowing and being afraid of not knowing, is we can never really be confident that what we know is reality. To paraphrase Mark Twain. “…they think they know something that just ain’t so.”
To be clear, the knowing I am referring to is not confusion or paralyzing doubt and it is not knowing in opposition to not knowing as in not knowing the capital of Nebraska, or even a set of propositions such as the four noble truths. When I say “I don’t know” I am talking the spirit of openness and curiosity a “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” or “Let’s keep going and see what happens,” it is the not knowing of faith. Suzuki Roshi wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “With beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert mind there are few.” Beginner’s mind is the essence of not knowing”. For those trapped in “knowing” the vista is limited, the questions are answered, all is settled, the world is fixed, but in the end, the light at the end of the tunnel is not more knowledge but the Dukkha Express and it is coming fast.
So how can we cultivate the non-dual spirit of “I don’t know”? The first thing is to simply being willing to not know, to let go of the knowing. I have found the world is lighter when I am free of having to know, I am more patient, less stressed, open. Here are two concrete things we can do to cultivate the not knowing.
First there is a good practice suggested by Buddhist teacher, Gil Fronsdal, is to attach “I don’t know” to as many thoughts as possible. For example, when thoughts arise like, this is good or this is bad or I can’t handle this; these become, I don’t know if this is good or I don’t know if this is bad or I don’t know if I can’t handle this. As he says, “the phrase “I don’t know” questions the authority of everything we think.” It allows us to be free of fixed ideas, it can create curiosity and allows an openness to creativity.” He goes on to say that this simple phrase can help us challenge tightly held beliefs and can “pull the rug out from under our most cherished beliefs.” Not knowing opens the world to us, it makes a way for us to be compassionate, patient, kind, honest and help cultivate equanimity.
The last thing that we can do to cultivate the essence of “I don’t know” is bowing. James Ishmael Ford has written about not knowing and how it relates to the act of bowing.
“Don’t know. Not knowing. That is the ancient spiritual practice of bowing in a nutshell…The bow, I suggest, can open our hearts, can take us places we never dreamed of, to a palpable, transformative, endless world of possibility called not knowing. This is what I really want to underscore: this not knowing has endless creative possibilities, to throw in another metaphor, one or two simply aren’t enough for this place, this moment when we surrender to not knowing, when we bow to life: we discover a well that apparently is bottomless, bubbling with life-giving waters.”
I raise my hands in gassho and bow to each of you.
I would like to close with the words of Zen teacher of the 9th century, Dizang, “not knowing is most intimate.”
Namu Amida Butsu.
Lately the world seems on fire, with mass shootings, mass migrations and terrorist attacks. People are more polarized of late, cultural shifts, deep old wounds are festering and all of these are changing the landscape, the earth seems to be moving under their feet and many are taking refuge in nationalism, bigotry and fear. The rawness and depth of this really hit home with me, especially when the little refugee boy washed up on the beaches of Turkey. I have a boy about this age…the image haunted me for days. What would make a father put his child at risk like that. A picture of the city his family left was published with the caption, “this is why you put your children on a boat.” The city the boy was from was destroyed; a city of skeletons, torn and broken homes, some burning, desolate and abandoned streets, the same streets that had heard laughter and music, the buzz and honk of rush hour, bird song and the heart beats of lover, now was a city of the dead, with only the sound of distant mortars, more a mausoleum of lost hopes, and dreams. Looking at the picture I was reminded of the words of the Buddha, “The world is burning.” And it is not just from war torn areas, there are refugees everywhere, there are spiritual refugees, spiritually homeless who have homes, spiritually friendless who have friends, those who know where they are at is not “right” that something is missing. It seems we are all looking for refuge, looking for a spiritual home.
Thinking of the small child dead on the beach, I wondered if that was my child, where could I find refuge from the pain, disappointment and impermanence of it all. Refuge is a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble, it’s a coming home. But we don’t have to experience the horror that the family from Syrian experienced to ask for or seek refuge. I have come to realize that as spiritual refugees many of us have wandered through self-help books, careers, relationships, materialism and addictions to find some home, some sort of refuge but only to be disappointed. The Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa explains that anyone who ‘goes for refuge’ must therefore be a ‘refugee’, so that as Buddhists we are ‘refugees from conditioned existence.”
As I have keep going on our journey I have found it, and it has always been waiting for me in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha, it was like coming home. I think this makes sense since we go to refuge saraṇa-gamana which in Pali could be translated as “coming home” we come home to the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha.
It is my hope that faced with such suffering as the refugees from Syria, I could still find my refuge by taking refuge in the Buddha, in the fact of his Awakening: and the three jewels, placing trust that he actually awakened to the truth, that he did so by cultivating qualities that we too can cultivate. That through my understanding of impermanence and the compassion of the Buddha, that awakening can be my ultimate refuge.”
May it be so.
from a Blog post by Jaffe Cole
I have always wondered about this quote from the Pali Cannon, a famous quote by the Buddha, used by many a rugged american individualist, those mindfulness practicers that follow a more “up by your bootstraps” kind of Buddhism. I like the context in which Jaffe Cole puts the quote.
” A common cliche we often hear today is to follow nobody but yourself. We are our own gurus, our own masters. We don’t need teachers or anybody to show us the way. We are the Way!
This advice is often bolstered with this (in)famous quote from the Buddha:
Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge…
Modern lingo pegs it as “Be your own refuge”. Or something like that. But let’s quote the whole text, which comes from the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana Sutta:
Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
The Buddha actually advocates taking the dhamma as our refuge. The dhamma includes the sangha (and the Buddha), so rather than this quote pointing to a arrogant attitude of “I know what’s best for me”, it rather points to a modest accepting of the Triple Gem as the guiding light in our lives. The Buddha never intended for everybody to just go out and read a few books and then make up their own paths, which is what “spirituality” primarily consists of today.
Moreover, consider the context in which this sutta was spoken. Was he preaching to locals in a village? Was this shouted from the proverbial rooftops? Obviously not. He was speaking to his most advanced and dearest disciples, almost all of who were already arahants themselves. In other words, this is not advice that the Buddha would dish out to “worldlings” like us. He might tell us to take the dhamma as a refuge, but I can guarantee he would not tell us to be our own gurus and that we should follow whatever we “feel is right.”
We all follow somebody or something, whether we recognize it or not. We often overestimate our own spiritual attainments. A good sign to know if this is the case to ask yourself how well you’re doing spiritually. If you consider yourself advanced, this is an indication that the opposite is true. Almost none of the saints of any religion have considered themselves advanced. In fact, the contrary is true. Whether Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim — the great spiritual teachers had guides and followed the precepts of their religions until their ends. Furthermore, they were often disillusioned with their own lack of attainments, complaining of sins committed or hearts still unpurified.
We all follow something or somebody. If we think we’re beyond following, then this simply means that we’re following our own feelings and whims, which are unreliable, unstable, and prone to be manipulated by the world.
see original below.
All the suffering in the world comes from seeking pleasure for oneself. All the happiness in the world comes from seeking pleasure for others.